Thoughts on R' Yishmael and R' Shimon Bar Yochai

Several years back I wrote about R' Shimon Bar Yochai in connection to shidduchim
I was thinking about it in another context today after a discussion with someone that didn't go quite as I had expected.

In short, the person took personal offense when I said that I know people who attempted to live "Torah only" with no plan for a living, claiming that was a denigration of her own family's values. As I was mulling this over, I was thinking that for all her dismissal of what I said as not taking the success of the people she knew into account, I actually have a pretty good authority on my side. I don't just mean the rosh yeshiva and rabbis that my husband has spoken with but none other than Abaye. See the dispute betweeteen R' Shimon and R' Yishmael in Brachos 35b.

אמר אביי הרבה עשו כרבי ישמעאל ועלתה בידן כר' שמעון בן יוחי ולא עלתה בידן

Summing up this dispute, Abaye said: Although there is room for both opinions, many have acted in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Yishmael, and combined working for a living and learning Torah, and although they engaged in activities other than the study of Torah, were successful in their Torah study. Many have acted in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai and were not successful in their Torah study. They were ultimately forced to abandon their Torah study altogether.

In short, yes, there were a very select few that could live up to R' Shimon's ideal of not putting any time into earning a livelihood. but those were the EXCEPTION to the general rule, which is exactly what I have observed in my own lifetime: most fail at this and have to change direction.

***What's particularly interesting about Abaye's psak in this case is that it seems to be based on a scientific approach. We have two hypotheses about cause and effect presented by two rabbis. Instead of the third one being machria based on his own judgment about what makes sense to him in interpreting the verses, he basically puts it to the test. He observes what happens in general to those who follow the Torah only regimen vs. what happens to those who follow the balanced diet regimen. After tallying the results, he very scientifically concludes that even though both theories have merit, from a practical standpoint one works better for most people. ***

So back to the shidduch question: even if a  a young woman wants someone who will aspire to the R' Shimon model, she has to realize what Abaye -- with far greater life experience and wisdom than she or likely even her teachers possess -- observed: the odds are against that working out.  Obviously, the same goes for the young man who says he want to only learn and not think about making a living at any point. For the majority, that way has been proven to be not sustainable. Therefore, it is prudent, as Abaye himself observed, to plan on a way to combine Torah learning with derech eretz because most of us fall into the majority rather than the exceptional cases.

This is not a diatribe against kollel. I was  kollel wife myself for few years. But I didn't choose to marry the man who said he would learn in kollel. I chose to learn the man with a cheshek to learn Torah ( see his blog) that remained with him even when he had to work full time to support his family. Just as I have said that you don't marry a resume (see you don't marry a mission statement. You marry a person for his/her inherent qualities.

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Ariella Brown said…
I just found a Richard Feynman quote that fits this nicely, "It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is. It doesn't matter how smart you are. If it disagrees with experiment, it's wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science." Abaye was of the scientific mindset here. R' Shimon was more into theory.
I would guess that he made this statement about disdaining work prior to the cave episode, which would fit with his response to seeing ordinary people at work upon the first exit. Knowing who He was dealing with, Hashem had to send him back to learn more to see to an even greater extent that R' Yishmael's approach doesn't have to be seen as a bedieved but can be a positive thing if done with the right intentions. He had failed to see that before, and his more immature son would have failed to see it even after the additional 12 months, but he finally grasped the truth and could appreciate the kedusha inherent even the mundane life of a member of klal Yisrael.

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